Family members, activists and others marched to the disreputable site to mark the anniversary and demand renewed justice and accountability as parts of the silos began to fall.
Stored in silos, grain was cooked, fermented and roasted under the scorching sun and intense humidity. Three weeks ago, oil from the grains sparked a fire that has since grown and licked the gut sides of some of the 157-foot-tall structures.
On Sunday, four of the 16 silos in the northern block of the port began to collapse. On Thursday, the flames continued to weaken the structures. Four more silos tipped to the side and then collapsed, sending a cloud of sand-colored dust several hundred feet away from the marchers.
Emmanuel Durand, a French civil engineer who volunteered to work with rescuers to monitor the structure, said the south block was structurally sound. He said these silos were built later, were in better condition, had stronger foundations and were mostly empty at the time of the 2020 explosion. There is no fire there.
“Measurements by both the laser scanner and the inclinometers show that it is stable,” he said.
In April, fearing that all the grain silos would collapse, the government announced that it had ordered their demolition. However, activists and families of some victims opposed this move and called for them to be preserved as memorial sites.
Their protest is symbolic of the injustice: Activists, members of parliament and others are demanding that the silos be left alone until an independent investigation into the cause of the explosion is carried out.
The trial, which began in 2020, has slowly stalled: The first lead judge in the investigation accused four officials of negligence in handling 2,750 tons of flammable ammonium nitrate over a six-year period, during which the material was stored on the waterfront. a warehouse on the outskirts of a crowded city, next to fireworks and paint thinners.
The judge was fired after two of the former ministers he charged filed appeals, alleging that he had failed to demonstrate neutrality in choosing prominent figures to accuse in front of an angry public.
The judge who followed him, Judge Tarek Bitar, faced resistance on the grounds that the officials he tried to question had immunity or lacked authority. They flooded the courts with complaints demanding his dismissal. As a result, his case was suspended: the courts where the complaints were to be heard were adjourned due to the retirement of the judges.
“Our demands are clear,” said Najat Saliba, an atmospheric chemist and newly elected member of parliament. “The main requirement is the independence of the judiciary so that people at least feel that the victims and their souls are not in vain.”
Saliba won a seat in parliament in May as part of a new group of independent candidates called “forces of change”. They took advantage of the demand for new votes in a legislature that for decades had been dominated by elderly men from several families.
Saliba said that the silos should witness the disaster, and the stables should not be touched until justice is served.
“The government says there is an economic loss due to the lost basin area,” the Washington Post reported. However, according to him, the priority is delivering justice to families.
“We say [ministers], no matter what, the silos must stay straight and up,” he said. “They remain to bear witness to our collective memory.”
Thousands of people gathered on the bridge overlooking the harbor on Thursday. At 6:07 p.m., when the explosion occurred, they observed a minute of silence. Later, the victim’s mother called out to the crowd as helicopters in the background flew containers of water over the smoldering remains of the newly collapsed silos.
“We want to know the truth. It is our right to know that those responsible for this heinous crime are brought to justice!” Mireille Khoury shouted into the microphone. His 15-year-old son Elias was killed in the explosion.
“My son and all the victims had a right to live and to be safe,” she said, her voice breaking on the word “safe.”
Standing beneath a large Lebanese flag marked with red spots representing the blood of the lost, men and women wept silently.
A woman led the meeting by swearing.
“By their pure blood, by the tears of mothers, siblings, fathers, children and elders, we will not despair, we will not submit, we will not obey, we will not retreat. , we will not favor, we will not appreciate. We are here and we will stay here until the end.”
At each promise, the audience raised their hands and repeated the words “I swear.”
On Thursday morning, some family members visited the port to pay their respects to the deceased. Port security officers seemed unsettled by the gravity of the day – with some expressing annoyance at the attention the silos and port still received. But others felt differently.
One of the soldiers stood guard among bent metal crates, thick tangles of rope and wrecked cars, rusted aerosol cans and curtain rods still in packaging. The three ships that were in the harbor when the explosion happened are still lying side by side. A ship thrown clear of the water sits rusting on the concrete.
The soldier nodded, wondering if all the debris towering over him was from the explosion. “And it will stay,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media. “Look, it’s a pile of garbage. Who will remove it?” Asked if he was aware of plans to clean up the site, he shook his head. “Who can pay?”
During the explosion, the soldier lost a friend who was standing near the silos. “When we found his car, it was this big,” he said, holding his hands about 20 inches apart.
He had no idea whether the southern quarter should be preserved as a monument or demolished.
He said it doesn’t feel strange working so close to a place where he lost a friend.
“You get used to it. This is life,” he said. “Those who can’t are families. For example, I knew him for a year. They lost their son.”
Suzanne Haidamous in Washington contributed to this report.